|Evaluation of A New Compost Dairy Barn Facility in New York State|
6/1/2007 - 5/31/2009
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming
Bedded compost pack improves cow comfort at Eagleview Dairy
An investment in composted bedding barns at Eagleview Dairy is returning cow comfort and cost savings.
“Maximizing cow comfort was our top priority and we are seeing improved cow health and performance,” said Marvin Luders.
Marvin and Candi Luders and Candi’s parents and brother, Robert, Elaine and Scott Boldt, operate the 350-cow dairy in Bliss, 50 miles southeast of Buffalo in New York’s top-prodicing dairy county. After combining herds in 2006, the family built two composted bedding pack barns, among the first such barns in the state. In 2009, they were named NY Farm Viability Institute Farmers of the Year for the model project.
The 80'x300'-foot and 80'x275'-foot barns, completed in spring 2007, house 350 lactating cows and first-year heifers. A 4-foot-high, 10-inch-thick retaining wall surrounds a 50-foot-wide pack with a minimum of 24 inches of sawdust over a 12-inch-thick clay liner. Twelve-foot curtain sidewalls and fans provide ventilation control.
A grant from USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Innovation program provided $731,700, a sum on-par with local freestall barn construction costs.
A $30,000 grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute supported Cornell University researchers evaluation of the pack’s effectiveness. Between August 2007 and August 2008, Eagleview’s lame cows declined from 23.7 percent to 3.4 percent of the herd.
“The pack is easier to get in and out of than a freestall barn,” Scott Boldt said, “and, in combination with a footbath, it has helped us essentially eliminate hairy heel wart problems.”
Marvin Luder added, “The cows have more actively expressed estrus in this environment, positively impacting our goal for internal growth.”
“The research team equates the gain in cow health to an increase of $33,000 in net revenue,” said project leader Joan Petzen, an agriculture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension Wyoming County.
A deep shank cultivator is used to till the top 12 inches of the pack generally twice a day to keep it aerated, drying, and generating warmth. The process takes 90 minutes a day. The carbon source, usually sawdust, is renewed about twice a week.
“We till less often when temperatures are cooler to conserve heat in the pack,” Scott Boldt said. “We follow a specific protocol to optimize compost performance and temperature for cow comfort.”
Tilling captures nutrients by mixing the carbon with nitrogen from the liquid and solid waste. The pack is cleaned out twice a year (spring and fall) and top-spread on 315 acres of grass, corn, and alfalfa/grass hay, making it ideal for no-till, zone-till systems.
“The pack’s fertility value is improving our soil health. Our cropping recommendations have changed from nitrogen-based to crop-removal based,” Marvin Luder said.
Candi Ludder noted, “The benefits of the composted pack also include reduced manure handling, less runoff and odor, and better neighbor relations.”
As cash flow allows, Eagleview Dairy plans to construct a 30'x100-foot compost bedded pack barn for dry and transition cows. A New York State Environmental Protection Fund Grant has been approved for the project.
“We’ve noticed the cows tend to congregate on hot days in the center of the pack to take advantage of a ‘wind tunnel’ effect, so the new barns will be narrower and 20 percent longer with more fans for times of extreme heat. That sizing also creates more manager space per cow,” Marvin Ludder said.
Scott Boldt said, “The challenge now is to determine the most cost-effective and available bedding material for the pack. The cost of kiln-dried sawdust has nearly doubled since we built these barns. The research here shows that soybean straw used in combination with sawdust may have promise.”
Options to finish composting the pack outside to remix with fresh sawdust for bedding or to create nutrient-rich fertilizer to sell to horticultural businesses and home gardeners are being considered.
For more info:
12-page Eagleview project report: http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/eagleview.pdf
Joan Petzen, (518) 786-2251 (518) 786-2251